Saturday, November 23, 2013

Make It Real

A while ago I had a conversation with a friend who is a farmer. We were discussing the state of the economy and jobs in the relatively isolated valley we live in on the Welsh Borders. I was taken aback when he championed 'jobs that produce things', especially when I realised that, to him, 'things' were tangible and physical: a car, a ball bearing, a sheep or a carrot.

I realise that, by this measure, I haven't produced anything all my life, despite working like a dog for most of the time. But I thought I had.

At the same time I remember rubbishing Linden dollars, in game purchases and Bitcoins. So, I, who makes nothing, rubbish virtual goods and currencies.

In a virtualised world this is a dilemma. 

It reminded me of the wonderful title of John Borman's book about making a film: 'Money Into Light'. It is, after all, what the film and TV industry does. It takes light (just about the most basic prerequisite raw material for film making) and attempts to mine money from it. In the same way as bitcoins are mined from a virtual digital mine.

After all, money itself is an exercise in mass confidence. It's based on a trust structure that was championed by those who would turn a blind eye to usury - such as the Medicis.

All of this is a long way round to consider 'rights': it's a term I don't like because it can be used so widely and imprecisely. Rights are privileges we enjoy collectively and as individuals in a society, but they are also ideas that can make us billions. A right is possibly the word in the English language with the widest definition ( and the concept seems repeated in French - droit): it can also mean a direction and a political leaning as well.

The trouble is a right is even more nebulous than a bitcoin. In the US rights are granted for the most obvious ideas and spawn  an industry of trolls who then try and enforce them. On the other hand, as individuals, we seem to have few rights left. The NSA, Google, everyone seems to take our rights and abuse or commoditise them.

My day job sees me quantifying and codifying rights - largely for the TV industry. But in doing so, I wish I could do the same for myself and those in my society, even if s right does not exist as anything that's real or tangible.